Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is without doubt one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He is regarded as an important reformer of modern painting, famous for his simplified style and bold use of colour, elegant draftsmanship, and iconic paper cut-outs.
Born in 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in Northern France, Matisse received a middle-class upbringing and was trained in law before developing an interest in art. Enrolling in the conservative Académie Julian in Paris in 1889, he first trained with the strictly academic master William-Adolphe Bouguereau, but switched to the atelier of the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1892. In 1896, at age 26, Matisse successfully exhibited several of his works at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and was invited to be associate member of the Salon society. His early paintings were executed in a relatively conservative, naturalistic manner, using sombre tones. Under the influence of Impressionism and Divisionism, however, his palette brightened and his compositions became more experimental. Along with André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, Matisse is regarded as one of the founders of the “Fauves” movement (French for “wild beasts”). With the aim of freeing colour from its descriptive function, Matisse’s works of this phase were characterized by the use of rich hues and aggressive paint application. In the early 1900s, while traveling along the Mediterranean coast, through Spain and North Africa, the artist embraced influences from ancient native and non-Western art and strived towards further abstraction, simplifying his compositions by eliminating shadows and defined forms. During the 1920s and 30s, while sharing his time between Paris and Nice, his paintings were often dominated by solid planes of colour and had a boldly decorative quality. After a serious illness in 1941, which left him confined to a wheelchair, Matisse chose paper as his primary medium and created mural-sized works from paper cut-outs in vegetal or abstract shapes, a process that he called “painting with scissors”.
In 1951 the Museum of Modern Art, New York staged a large retrospective of his art while the artist was still alive. The Musée Matisse opened in his hometown of Le Cateau-Cambrésis in 1952. Henri Matisse died in 1954 in Camiez, in Southern France.